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How to start an emotional conversation

child drawing of gecko
Gecko who tells you what to say in difficult situations

This is a gecko that tells you what to say in difficult situations! He was designed by a boy in Yr 6. How incredible is this guy? I definitely need one of these geckos in my life.

Story telling for emotional problems

This Gecko was produced at a workshop in one of Oxford's schools. We worked through some story-telling ideas for dealing with emotional problems. All the kids from Yr 6 were amazingly creative and really engaged with the subject. The kids we worked with were so engaged because the task was creative. So much learning and expression can come with a creative exercise like this.

Children's character Daring Dragon from the picture book 'Fearless Fairy and Daring Dragon say: Let's Go to School
Daring Dragon - helping younger children feel confident

A character to start a conversation

We thought it was worth sharing the exercise with you all, because we were so impressed by the outcome of this technique for increasing emotional literacy. We started by sharing an example with the kids, our own version of a dragon that would help younger children to feel more confident. We put our dragon, Daring, into a picture book series for ages 4-6. Daring Dragon explains to younger children how they are feeling and gives them techniques to manage their feelings. Daring models techniques for relaxation, making friends, engaging with the teacher etc. Reading this book to the Yr 6's showed them exactly what we meant by creating a character to solve an emotional problem.


Fearless Fairy and Daring Dragon say: Let's Go to School

Click left to see the picture book on Amazon. The picture book for 4- 6 yr olds from A Confident Start. Daring Dragon shows how to be successful in school - working with your teacher and making friends.


Kids tell their own stories

Child's drawing of a dragonfly who helps with anxiety
Anxiety Emily - the dragonfly to make you feel better

Then we gave the kids the chance to make their own creatures, or dragons, to solve an emotional problem. Those Yr 6 stars came up with such a huge range of problem solvers - from a dragon that removes plastic from the world's oceans, to one that helped to give confidence, to a creature that made you better at football and even one (gulp) that helped you "find your funny when you have lost a parent". This picture on the right was to help someone who was struggling with anxiety. One caveat, we were doing a workshop, not individual therapy, but even so I think you can see that these pictures were the beginning of some important and helpful conversations for those children. These were great pictures to share with their teachers in PSHE and at home with their parents.

Our Workshop

We have some examples here to show you, but every single child in both classes came up with their own very creative idea with not much input needed from us. We quite literally couldn't have made these up - but the children did. Congratulations to all those incredibly creative children at Botley School - you know who you are. We don't have space to put all 60 odd dragons on here but we loved meeting all of your problem solvers.

Dragons for solving problems, from the left:

1 Money Dragon - to help you be independent and learn from your money mistakes

2 Geography George - to take you to different countries to learn their ideas

3 to make things more colourful

Over to you - Problem Solving Characters

To try this technique at home with your own children:

  1. start with an example - from a book, or a story you tell yourself

  2. provide paper and pens

  3. work alongside your child to make your own version

  4. be incredibly enthusiastic and discuss their ideas

NB: it may help if your own problem-solver is a bit lame - imperfectly drawn and low powered ( e.g. in the workshop I drew a dragon to find the odd socks lost in my house - they were all deeply dismissive of my efforts in concept and execution! That gave the reluctant ones a bit of confidence they could be better than me.)

Give it time, because creativity takes a while but it is there, e.g. one person in our workshop did a dragon that eventually turned out to be connected to the internet by USB drive in its tail.

Leaving it open as a problem-solving exercise allows children to be as emotional, or not, as necessary. It doesn't matter if the first time you try this, you create a dragon to help your football team win the FA Cup. Next time, you might arrive at something more meaningful. I hope you start some useful conversations in your family.

Rachel Tustian - psychology that works for your family

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